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Web developer says town stinks, wins injunction against city, city cannot sue

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The city had instructed Harms, a local creator of a website, not to talk to the media about the the city’s odor, the city’s threatened of litigation against him. Creator of the website, and the ACLU have filed a lawsuit against the town of Sibley after the city ordered him to remove the site that was critical of the city and city Manager. 

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Sibley resident Josh Harms says the plant — Iowa Drying and Processing, which produces a high-protein animal feed supplement made from pig plasma — sometimes makes the town smelled like dead animals or sewage. (Photo: ACLU/Special to the Register)

Iowa man says his town stinks. Court says city cannot sue

Des Moines Iowa Register, March 29, 2018

The city of Sibley agrees it will no longer threaten to sue a resident who criticized officials on his website for failing to stop the “rancid dog food” smell coming from a processing plant.

A district court Thursday issued a permanent injunction, ordering officials from the northwest Iowa town to refrain from suing — or threatening to sue — Josh Harms, who operates the Should You Move to Sibley, Iowa? website.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa filed a lawsuit earlier this month against Sibley after an official sent Harms a letter in December asking him to take down his website within 10 days or face legal action.

Harms said it’s his constitutional right to speak out against government officials, who he believes are not doing enough to remedy the odor coming from a pork blood processing plant.

Earlier versions of his website suggested people might not want to move to Sibley until city officials addressed the “horrible rotten-blood and stale-beer odor that hangs over the town.”

The injunction, which the city agreed to, blocks Sibley officials from “directing Harms not to speak with reporters, threatening to bring a lawsuit, or actually bringing a lawsuit against” Harms.

[The City of] Sibley also agreed to:

  • Provide training on the First Amendment to city staff.

  • Issue a written apology to Harms.

  • Cover $20,475 in attorneys’ fees for the time the ACLU and its cooperating attorney spent defending Harms’ speech rights.

  • Pay $6,500 in damages to Harms.

“I’m happy that the city of Sibley has recognized they were wrong to threaten me for the criticism I’ve written and published online,” Harms said.

“Personally disagreeing with something that’s been written is understandable, but threatening the writer with a lawsuit while representing the government is censorship,” he said. “It violates the First Amendment and our freedom of speech.”

With the injunction, Harms said he hoped to use his skills as a web developer “to improve the lives of everyone living in Sibley by calling attention to the problems we face.”

Iowa Register for more, this Link.

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